Nepali Times Asian Paints
A. ANGELO D'SILVA
Critical Cinema
American eccentricism


A. ANGELO D'SILVA


The last decade in the United States has witnessed a gathering of film with an offbeat sensibility that champions the misfit, the loser, the freak or the generally maladjusted.

This genre we may call American Eccentricism, although inadequate evaluation has often led it to be tagged with unwieldy monikers like 'The New New Wav&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;', 'Quirky New Wave' or 'Neo-Humanism'. Its master, Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited), with his melancholic characters lovingly propped against gorgeous sets, is already being called an auteur. Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know) and Mark Mills (Thumbsucker) are others who have left their mark, and the recent success of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris in Little Miss Sunshine owes much to the Eccentricists.

Already renowned for writing comedies like School of Rock and Nacho Libre, Mike White recently made a not-so-surprising foray into Eccentricism with his directorial debut Year of the Dog. Protagonist Peggy, played by the excellent Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live), is a secretary in a nondescript suburban firm. Single, in her forties, her one source of happiness is her beagle named Pencil.

Although on the face of it Peggy seems well-adjusted, happily delivering donuts to her workplace and being the sympathetic ear, there's an undercurrent of dissatisfaction. That veneer begins to crack when her much-loved dog tragically dies. The event puts her on a path to some radical self-invention. Befriending and consequently falling for the animal shelter guy Newt (Sarsgaard) who persuaded her to adopt another dog, she finds herself slowly awakening to a new political life of veganism and animal activism, which eventually up-ends all normalcy in her life.

What White borrows from the Eccentricists is the brilliant juxtaposition of themes: humour in a completely demure world, irony in the (post-9/11) paranoia of America, and meaning in an agonizingly alienating society. Our misfit Peggy commands our real affection even as we are asked to laugh at her oddity.

Eccentricist films have always relied on a broad ensemble of secondary characters that reinforces the humanist spirit of the films. Here, however, they serve as a foil to the saintly persona of Peggy. The script White pens plants harsh phrases into their mouths that disturb the viewers with their callous narcissism. And these moments sting, but don't always tickle. It becomes too evident that each person will eventually disappoint, only to highlight the simple loyalty and innocence of our feathered and furred counterparts.

In this story about finding meaning and purpose, White's film fails to match the perfect balance of pain and humour accomplished by its Eccentricist cousins. Its ending, with Peggy elegiacally yet determinedly summarizing her discoveries about herself in an email over a montage of her loved ones, goes far in rescuing the film from the drudgery that infects it by that point. Sadly, despite this correction, the estranged individuals and Peggy's disaffection with humanity through most of the film sour Year of the Dog.

Year of the Dog
Director: Mike White
Cast: Molly Shannon, Peter Sarsgaard, Regina King, Laura Dern, Josh Pais
2007. PG-13. 97 min.



LATEST ISSUE
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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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